“It’s my job to help resolve the community’s issues.”
Community Capitals Policing was born in the conversations that led up to the construction of the REACH Ashland Youth Center. Those conversations took place between Hilary Bass, who was working as a resident services and youth development coordinator in the Eden Area, and Sergeant (now Captain) Marty Neideffer, who was serving as a School Resource Officer (SRO) in the San Lorenzo Unified School District. Hilary and Marty were concerned about the lack of safe places for kids in the area. They also wanted kids to have access to the types of extracurricular and recreational activities that youth in wealthier communities take for granted.
In 2013, after nine long years of organizing, advocacy, and hard work, the kids opened the doors on a state-of-the-art, 35,000-square-foot, activity-filled youth center. And today, Community Capitals Policing has grown into a national model of policing based on a systems approach that addresses parks and facilities, recreational activities, behavioral health, public art, healthy food, and much, much more.
Throughout the years, the Sheriff’s Office has continued to play a vital role at REACH, and today, that work is carried out by Sheriff’s Deputy Danielle Mitchell, an SR0 with 15 years of service and a passion for making lives better for children and youth in the Ashland-Cherryland community.
“REACH is a safe place for kids to come for fun activities, but we also have counselors, therapists, tutors, and a full-service medical clinic on site, so if kids have issues they’re going through, we can provide those services,” said Dep. Mitchell. “All of us—as a team—create success plans for the kids in coordination with the school system to help them succeed.”
“I love working with the people in the community, because I am a part of this community,” she said. “I live in the neighborhoods, and my kids attend the schools here. It’s important for me to give this job the proper service and attention that I would expect law enforcement to give in my community, or in any community.”
Deputy Mitchell has always been dedicated to public service. Prior to joining the Sheriff’s Office, she worked for Social Services for Alameda County. After about eight years, she decided to make a career change and became a Deputy Sheriff.
Asked what she enjoys most about her job at REACH, Deputy Mitchell exclaimed, “the kids!”
“I love being able to walk through the hallways and have them greet me and be happy to see me,” she said. “I love that they feel comfortable talking to me, and I enjoy being a positive role model for kids. I have enough influence to get them to be cognizant about their actions and to do the right things. Ultimately, it’s not about me, it’s about them making the right decisions. I’m able to be there to help guide them.”
Community Capitals Policing in action
Community Capitals Policing provides Sheriff’s Deputies with a lot of flexibility as to how they solve problems and improve people’s lives in the community. One of the initiatives Deputy Mitchell created, called “Fresh Cuts for Success,” brings teachers together with local business owners to recognize and encourage kids who’ve gotten “sidetracked.” Every month, the teachers identify the students who are turning things around by improving their attendance or their grades or making other progress. The students receive gift certificates from local businesses, which in turn generates economic activity and deepens relationships in the community. Deputy Mitchell orchestrates the whole thing.
“It’s my job to help resolve the community’s issues and to become a figure of trust, which in turn helps me identify problems and address them in creative ways,” she said. “Not only am I having positive interaction with the kids, I’m also working with the businesses in the area, having meetings, talking about safety issues, and finding different ways of bringing people together.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way REACH and Deputy Mitchell operate. REACH’s summer programs typically include 140 kids and a free-flowing schedule of activities. This summer, however, the programs were limited to two, 4-week sessions, with approximately 40 students. The students were assigned to stable, 10-person groups, and they stayed within their groups. The groups had staggered arrival and departure times to prevent the groups from intermingling. They were also assigned to specific classrooms, which were carefully cleaned and sanitized between activities.
“It’s been challenging, but the program went really, really well,” said Deputy Mitchell. “The kids were excited and happy, and they kept their distance and wore their masks.”
It’s not always fun and games
There are times when Deputy Mitchell is called upon to respond to calls and make arrests when public safety is legitimately at risk. However, through Community Capitals Policing, Deputy Mitchell—and all of the officers who work in the Alameda County Sheriff’s Youth and Family Services Bureau—has the opportunity to intervene early and to divert at-risk youth away from the juvenile justice system through referrals to behavioral health professionals and a full range of pro-social activities.
Community Capitals Policing has the potential to change the culture of policing from the inside out, at every level and at every step, to create the safest environment possible for all of our residents. Imagine a future where policing is based on a caring, authentic partnership with the community. We believe that future is possible and achievable.